By Haley Zblewski
Eau Claire community members had a chance to express their concerns about and to propose changes to current bus routes at an Eau Claire Transit Commission meeting on Feb. 20.
Transit Manager Mike Branco said Eau Claire Transit is trying to get the public more involved in discussions about what they would like to see from their bus routes.
“In the four years I’ve been here, we have not made any changes to the routes,” he said. “And that’s something we used to always do, about once a year, was to really take a look at our routes and find out what’s working, what’s not.”
Jeremy Gragert of Eau Claire presented a few of his ideas during the forum, including a lack of bus service on State Street in the evening. He also suggested having bus service on Sundays, something that has been a popular topic of discussion with frequent riders of the city buses for years, he said.
“Sunday service is the big thing that everyone is asking for,” Gragert said. “And they’ve been asking for it for a long time. It just depends on how the city can be flexible about making it a priority.”
Gragert said he would like to make a push for it this year as part of the Transit Development Plan, a long-term growth project for the city.
Branco said Sunday service is something Eau Claire Transit would like to look into for the future.
“I would absolutely love to do it, but there’s a lot involved with it,” he said. “There’s money and union contracts, you name it. There’s a lot of obstacles to overcome, but I think we should pursue it.”
On its Facebook page, Eau Claire Transit reminded the community that ideas do not mean immediate results and are not always affordable.
“Please realize that just because a change of service was presented by the public, it may not necessarily be feasible,” the post said.
Branco said it would take approval from the state and federal government to make sure they have funding for any potential changes as well. He doesn’t think it would be difficult to get approval for changes at a federal level, but things may be more difficult at the state level.
“The state has had a moratorium on increasing levels of service for the last six years,” he said. “It would take them to get over that.”
Gragert said he recognizes funding is an issue with a lack of state and federal money. The Sunday service is something that needs to be negotiated within the budget, a feat that requires some movement among departments like the police and fire as well as street maintenance.
“We need to somehow figure out a way to do it on the local level,” Gragert said. “That might include having to have transit be a larger part of the city budget and I believe it’s around two or three percent of the budget right now.
Sarah Adams, an Eau Claire resident who attended the meeting, said she was also hoping for Sunday service.
“A lot of people really rely on the bus and the bus is their only form of transportation,” she said. “It’s just a big gap in services when there’s no bus to take on Sunday. A lot of low-income people are reliant on the bus to get to their jobs and employers aren’t as flexible about scheduling that way.”
Adams said she would use Sunday bus service if it was available, though Branco said if Eau Claire Transit would ever make it so far as to have buses run on Sunday it would have to be a reduced service, even more so than the way Saturday service currently runs.
Adams also suggested at the meeting that Route 9, the university bus line catering especially to college students, should be extended to offer service in summer.
“There’s people downtown and people on the East Hill, there’s people all over Eau Claire that need to get to the Water Street area, too, not just students,” she said. “And there’s also a large population of students that stay in Eau Claire for the summer and attend summer classes and they would probably use it too.”
The next Eau Claire Transit Commission meeting will be held March 20, and the public can discuss their opinions about potential route changes with the commission then.